Deloitte US senior manager, Cree, shares her passion for wellbeing, and her own experience as part of our series aiming to reduce societal stigma around mental health
Why does being able to talk about mental health at work matter? It’s because we’re not robots. It’s become a cultural norm that, when you’re at work, you change into a ‘colleague’ or ‘coworker’ and the rest of who you are needs to be left at home. But we’re human beings, and our value as colleagues ultimately comes from the rich mix of experiences that makes us who we are. When you try and fragment yourself, you’re not coming to work as your whole self.
And just like physical health, everybody has mental health. We may all experience some level of mental ill health at some pointꟷ whether it’s stress or a clinically diagnosed condition. By trying to cover this aspect of your experience, you can make a bad situation much worse. The irony is that by trying to be the model worker, our performance can suffer as our stress levels continue to rise and we often don’t ask for help.
My own experience of postpartum anxiety and recovering from breast cancer have helped shape my approach to mental health and the behavior I model for my teams. Back in 2013, after my daughter was born prematurely, I had a very hard time with anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I constantly worried about my daughter, and couldn’t leave her side at the beginning. While I was able to tell leaders and co-workers what I was experiencing, I don’t think at the time the mental health aspect of what I was going through was fully understood. I was advised to get back-up care and told that what I was feeling was the usual worry of a first-time mom. I was able to work with human resources to find a remote internal role that allowed me to be physically close to my daughter and worked through my anxiety with the help of a therapist sourced through Deloitte’s employee assistance program (EAP). I think my experience was typical of a time when the mental health aspect of life events was not well understood and not fully considered in the workplace.
This was also apparent when I had cancer. As you can imagine, surviving breast cancer took an emotional as well as physical toll, and I experienced depression as a result. People at work were very thoughtful and protective of me, but it was easier to focus on the physical impact of the disease rather than its mental health component.
And outside of work, I had a similar experience with family–especially because mental health isn’t widely discussed in the African American community. My mom would encourage me to be strong and was fearful that me being depressed would mean I wouldn’t survive the cancer.
Later, I started supporting the Deloitte US Chief Wellbeing Officer, Jen Fisher during the development of a mental health ‘first aid’ e-learning, aiming to highlight the importance of mental health in the workplace. As the US firm started to put mental health firmly on the agenda, I could feel that we were on a journey to greater openness about mental health, and this also influenced my own habits.
I became more open to talking about my mental health with my mentors and my peers – coming back to the idea of being your whole self, sometimes I find it helps to talk to someone who understands my work environment. I also became more deliberate about checking in on the wellbeing of my team.
At home, I’ve learned to make time for myself, set boundaries with work, workout, and connect with nature and my own spirituality. Above all, I try to act with kindness and compassion to others and remove ego – I find this supports positive mental health once you realize you don’t have to be right all the time, and accept you can’t control everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the environment that Black professionals in the US specifically faced in 2020 have underscored that it’s not possible nor desirable to separate ourselves from our mental health. Sometimes you need to be able to talk about and name a feeling in order to heal. With that in mind, in 2021, with the support of DEI and Empowered Wellbeing, I developed the Healing Circles – a safe space for Black professionals to speak freely about the emotional impact of the social unrest and injustices within our communities. The goal of these sessions was to provide Black professionals with the tools and strategies for healing.
By being open, educating ourselves, and challenging misconceptions, we can all move toward a place where mental health garners the same attention as physical health.
Deloitte’s mental health story series aims to break down barriers to talking about mental health. It is not intended to – and does not - offer advice nor substitute professional mental health support. If you are experiencing mental ill health or are concerned about someone else’s mental health, please contact your national or local helpline or healthcare provider for support.